Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News When is Ok to Break the Rules

When is Ok to Break the Rules

This item in japanese

In “Just Ship Baby” Kent Beck, author of the JUnit Framework, reminds us that the point of all the Agile processes and practices is to produce shipping software. If they’re getting in the way of shipping software – then perhaps you need to break the rules.

Quoting, Al Davis, general manager of the Oakland Raiders, who once said “Just win, baby”, Kent describes the troubles he had trying to write an Eclipse Plug-in Test First to experiment with an idea he had.

For six or eight hours spread over the next few weeks I struggled to get the first test written and running. Writing tests for Eclipse plug-ins is not trivial, so it’s not surprising I had some trouble. I just kept bashing at the problems, trying to get that first test to run cleanly.

So after eight hours work, he still doesn’t have a useful test nor has he succeeded in testing the original idea. A few days later he tried another experiment in Eclipse this time without any tests and it was uncomfortable he was able to demonstrate after three hours work that the experiment wasn’t such a great idea.

Piergiuliano Bossi, feels that Kent shipped the wrong message. He believes that Kent was really just doing an investigative spike exploring the eclipse plugin structure and trying to understand how to write tests in that environment. Piergiuliano thinks it’s normal to explore the api without TDD, waiting until you’ve enough of an understanding of the api to come back and rewrite the code.  He wonders when there might be a case for relaxing the rules and what the consequences might be:

let’s consider a situation where a short-term deliverable can be achieved if some of the practices are relaxed. In this situation, the team incurs typically into some significant technical debt or, even worse, the external quality of the system is severely affected.

There are other circumstances where the system can already be so compromised that no more design debt can be tolerated or the lack of correctness of the software can cause financial loss (or worse). My experience is that this is much more likely to happen and when it does its consequences can be devastating. Saying “Just ship, baby” can have catastrophic effects and it’s ultimately irresponsible.

He fears that Kent’s post will just “feed the despicable culture of Macho Programming.”

Five years ago, Uncle Bob, wrote on the same subject:

Blindly following rules is a fools errand. We have enough grey matter to discern when the rules are helpful and when they are not. We have the responsibility to continuously measure whether the rules are helpful, or whether they are not.

But he tempered that observation with:

Our core of professional pride is the cure.  That something that is both cold and hard, yet hot and blazing.  It won't set aside a rule out of fear. It sets aside a rule when the rule will cause you to ship shit.

So it would in the minds of Piergiuliano and Bob the thing to keep in mind is that quality is what really matters.

Rate this Article